The arrival of Hollywood co-owners has brought a lot that’s different to Wrexham but Iwan Pugh-Jones simply gives thanks for the two new industrial size washing machines in the kit room.
It’s 10am on Monday morning, six days out from the team’s FA Cup fourth round tie with Sheffield United, and Pugh-Jones, the club’s kit man, has been here for three hours.
There’s an the industrial-sized box of washing powder in the middle of the room amid piles of laundered white washed socks and shorts, two bags of balls he’s prepared for the training session about to start outside and a rail of red shirts which the players will wear at Gateshead in their National League match the following night.
Wrexham kit man Iwan Pugh-Jones spends hours making certain all the team kits are clean
It is a busy week with Wrexham preparing to face second tier Sheffield United in the FA Cup
Co-chairmen Ryan Reynolds (left) and Rob McElhenney (right) have transformed the club
‘They knocked down a wall to make this place bigger for me last summer,’ Pugh-Jones relates, surveying the room. ‘I don’t know how we managed it before.’
He’s remembering how things had become as money became uncomfortably tight at Wrexham and he juggled this role with that of unofficial assistant groundsman. He’d throw the kits into two temperamental, rusty old machines, set it on a heavy wash cycle and head out to join his friend Paul Chaloner, the groundsman, patch up the pitch.
‘The lads would take their training kit home and wash it themselves back then,’ he says. ‘That helped.’
Gradually and unmistakably under the stewardship of Rob McElhenney and Ryan Reynolds, this club is growing back to what it once was. The most graphic evidence of progress are the JCBs digging up the concrete terrace of the old Kop end outside, where many of the 13,000 in attendance celebrated the legendary Mickey Thomas free-kick which helped down Arsenal in the Third Round, 31 years ago this month.
Pugh-Jones is grateful to Hollywood investment and is still ‘pinching himself’ at the success
A sign of the times is the demolition of the derelict Kop End at the Racecourse Stadium
BEN TOZER’S GUIDE TO THE WREXHAM TEAM
Paul Mullin. The man who scores a lot of our goals and though he might seem quiet in the documentary, he’s far from that on the field. Ended up with an acting role with Ryan Reynolds in one of the documentary scenes. He’s got that sense of humor
Mark Howard. Our goalkeeper and as one of the older members of an experienced dressing room, not backwards in coming forwards when things need to be said at half time. An older head. Knows what’s right and what’s wrong
Ben Tozer. That’s me and I have a few roles beyond defending and delivering the long throws I’m known for. I handle the fines system and I’m also the one who sorts the music. It was in a right state before I got here and I try all sorts, from Elton John to Drake, but it’s hard to please some people
Ollie Palmer. Another goalscorer, who my long throws are sometimes aimed at… I have to say that.
He and midfielder Elliot Lee pay out heavier fines than most. For general sloppiness. Not wearing flip flops in the shower or wearing a hat at breakfast. Basic manners really!
The demolition of the decaying steel stand structure took place a few days after Wrexham had beaten Coventry City in the Third Round and though locals here remembered great nights on that concrete, watching Wrexham go toe-to-toe with Porto, Roma and Real Zaragoza in the European Cup Winners’ Cup, with children sitting on cushions on the crash barriers, that end of the ground had been empty and derelict since relegation to the non-league, 16 years ago.
This weekend, there will just be a empty space where the stand once stood and manager Phil Parkinson, who’s been here for an hour already, is hoping that the new acoustic won’t affect his players.
‘We won’t really know how it will seem until Sunday,’ he says.
‘We just want to retain the familiarity of the place for the players. It’s no bad thing that we’re training on it this morning. They can at least get a feel for it.’
The fact that they’re doing so reflects how training is more complicated than many new fans who have tuned in to McElhenney and Reynolds’ hugely successful documentary series ‘Welcome to Wrexham’ might appreciate.
The club don’t own their own facility and rotate around a number of local fields.
The nearby Colliers Park training ground – which the club sold off during its lurch towards insolvency in 2011 – is owned by the local Glyndwr University and is frozen over on this bright, bitterly cold morning.
‘That place seems to have its own micro-climate,’ relates Parkinson.
In some ways, it’s the most important session of Fourth Round week, given that the team’s fight to win an automatic promotion continues at Gateshead the following night.
Club captain Luke Young dispatches angular free-kicks. Striker Paul Mullin, muffled up in a snood, plays a defender’s part in a defensive play. ‘More of that,’ bellows Parkinson from across the pitch.
There’s none of the industrial language we hear from Parkinson during games in the documentary series: ‘Phil’s enthusiasm’, as the filmmakers call it. He’s different on non-game days, his players say.
Keeping half an eye on all this is Chaloner, the head groundsman – another of the individuals who suddenly find themselves recognizable because of the way the filmmakers captured him.
Viewers warmed to his paternal relationship with his young apprentice Harry Jones, including a scene in which he teaches him to cook eggs. Jones has been described as ‘Harry eggs’ by some of many American tourists who now turn up here.
Boss Phil Parkinson is looking forward to his side testing themselves against higher opposition
Head groundsman Paul Chaloner is tasked with keeping the pitch in top condition for matches
McElhenney and Reynolds have been enthusiastic supporters of their team since taking over
Just like Pugh-Jones, with whom he will often head to away games in the club’s 15-year-old Ford Transit, Chaloner remembers days when money was desperately tight.
‘We had voluntary staff and offenders on community service to do some of the work around the stadium,’ he says.
‘We had to ration the fertilizer we used on the pitch and a lot of stuff didn’t really work.
‘The white-line marker for the pitch was broken so we just taped it up. Now we have a fertilizer budget and we’ve been able to buy some new mowers and a tractors.’
Chaloner has recently taken possession of the two lighting rigs, strung out across the pitch, which heats it, helping the grass to grow and creating the kind of surface that Parkinson wants.
‘We’ve got the rigs on lease until the end of the season, with an option to buy,’ says Chaloner. ‘When we were struggling financially, no one wanted to touch us. Now we’re getting offers of samples from everywhere.’
Parkinson calls club secretary Geraint Parry to see if there are a few extra tickets for his family members in the Wrexham allocation for Gateshead. Nearly 700 will make the three-and-a-half hour trip, arriving back home at gone 2am. That’s how the support has been for months. More than 10,000 will be at The Racecourse on Sunday, just as there are for every home game now.
Daily Mail went behind the scenes at Wrexham as the players prepared for a momentous week
Americans Tanner and Paulina Weeks (pictured) visited to buy some Wrexham merchandise
There’s a distinct US dimension to this. In the first month after the documentary started screening, club merchandise revenues rose from $74,000 (£60,000) to around $446,000 (£360,000), with huge demand from the US, which the series is primarily aimed at.
At midday in the club shop, there is evidence of the ‘Welcome to Wrexham’ effect as Tanner and Paulina Weeks, from the US state of Arkansas, who have made Wrexham a stopping off point on a tour of the UK, buy Wrexham scarves and waterproof tops.
‘We love the TV show. We fell in love with this place, its charm and its people, when we watched it and we want to be part of it,’ says Mrs Weeks.
‘We had to come here. It’s like coming home. It’s your version of our southern hospitality.’
In the afternoon, another American arrives with his son to buy scarves and see the place.
Wrexham have become a global phenomenon, trending No 1 in the US in the Coventry victory
‘We were in Manchester and had to come,’ he says. Replica home shirts have sold out, driving an extraordinary market for them on eBay, where one of last season’s away tops, in Philadelphia green, sold this week for $742 (£600). Others were priced at $494 (£400) and $432 (£350).
‘This green jacket which Ryan wore at Wembley for the FA Trophy final is popular,’ says Connor Fowles, the shop’s manager, pointing out the item which, like most others features the name ‘Aviation Gin’, the company in which Reynolds has a commercial and strategic interest.
‘There’s been another run on scarves too. People were just buying the stock of the Trophy final ones before we got more supplies.’
Shaun Harvey, adviser to the board and the individual who has driven things for McElhenney and Reynolds, surveys the demolition of the Kop – which is clearing the way for a stand which would not look out of place in the Premier League – and reflects on the significance of this weekend.
After that 4-3 win was secure, co-chairman McElhenney tweeted ‘we’re just getting started’
‘To be the lowest ranked club still left in the competition – and the only team in Wales – puts what we are doing here into some kind of national perspective,’ he says.
‘We think it’s a justification of the work we are doing. It’s something special for our fans and a chance to see the team for those who we are new to.’
When afternoon comes around, the Weekes are still here, on a visit which has included a tour of the adjacent Turf pub – a central location in the documentary. They hear that Parkinson is around, wonder if a photograph with him might be possible, and he obliges before a BBC interview to discuss the game.
The players leave at 4pm, with instructions to assemble at 8am the next day for the Gateshead trip, by which time Pugh-Jones’ washing machines are beginning to wind down. The team won 3-0 in the north east, with goals from Paul Mullin, Tom O’Connor and Ollie Palmer sending them to the top of the National League table.
‘For a long time, Paul and I wondered where all of this was going when the money seemed to be running out,’ says Pugh-Jones. ‘But what’s important about all this is that it’s given my town some of its old confidence back. I’ll be on the bench on Sunday, just like I am most games, and I’m pinching myself, really. I never saw how something like this was possible.’
Read more at DailyMail.co.uk